The Boston Red Sox have had an action-packed start to their season against the Baltimore Orioles, losing the season-opener 10-9 before pulling off a wild comeback victory on Saturday afternoon, with the final score settling in at 9-8 thanks to a walk-off two-run home run from Adam Duvall. Despite the thrilling victory, fans can’t seem to get the bad taste out of their mouths from Chris Sale‘s ugly start.
Sale made his return to the hill after an injury-filled 2022 campaign that saw him pitch just 5.2 innings for Boston. The hope was that Sale, now fully healthy for the first time in quite awhile, would be able to return to his former status as the team’s ace. Instead, he got destroyed by Baltimore (3 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) and was lucky that the Sox lineup got him off the hook for the loss.
Ever since Boston signed Sale to a big money extension after their 2018 World Series win, they have been left waiting for him to be the star pitcher that he was earlier in his career. And while he’s dealt with his fair share of injuries, Sale also hasn’t been good when he’s been on the mound. For that reason, it’s time for the Red Sox to face the facts; Chris Sale isn’t their ace anymore.
Chris Sale is no longer an ace-caliber pitcher for the Red Sox
For the first two seasons of his stint with the Red Sox, Sale was the same dominant pitcher he was during his time with the Chicago White Sox. But after the 2018 season, everything has gone wrong for Sale. He’s suffered an injury seemingly every time he’s taken the hill, and even when he’s been pitching, he hasn’t been his same old self.
The writing was on the wall in 2019 (6-11, 4.40 ERA, 218 K, 1.09 WHIP) when Sale couldn’t consistently locate his pitches. He eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, and that was the most recent instance in which Sale pitched over 100 innings in a season. From 2020 to now, Sale has pitched just 51.1 innings, meaning Boston is spending a lot of money for Sale to do virtually nothing.
You can’t harp on Sale for getting injured, even though it’s killed the Red Sox, but you can harp on him for being bad when he’s been on the hill. Factoring in his messy first start of the season, here’s a look at Sale’s numbers from the 2019 to now (11-13, 4.35 ERA, 281 K, 1.17 WHIP). Sale is striking batters out still, but when he gives up hits, typically they come in bunches and lead to a lot of runs.
Boston has spent much of the past few years waiting and hoping for a Sale return, because he’s their ace. But what has he shown to prove that he’s still the same pitcher during that time? Nothing. Sale hasn’t been available at all, and when he’s been on the hill, he’s typically getting tagged by the opposing lineup. Sale just isn’t who he once was.
There’s a vicious cycle engulfing the player in Sale himself and the team that seemingly will never end. Sale is as critical of himself as many fans are, repeatedly bashing himself for his struggles, and while he sounds like he wants to fix his struggles, actions speak louder than words, and Sale’s actions are becoming increasingly tough to watch.
At this point in his career, Sale is basically a two-pitch pitcher, relying heavily on his fastball and sweeping slider. But most opposing hitters know what to expect from Sale at this point. He rarely uses his changeup, which was easily his best pitch in his start against Baltimore, and he has worked on adding a sinker, which he has a stunning lack of control on. Sale has never seemed comfortable with his changeup in recent seasons, and his inability to regain his feel for the pitch is killing him.
The Red Sox also are guilty of contributing to this mess, largely because they have led themselves to believe that Sale is still the same player he once was. Their starting rotation has been a complete wash through just two games, with both Sale and Corey Kluber looking lost on the hill early on. There are some promising young arms behind them, but there’s no de facto ace on this roster.
Some fans may say it’s just one game, but Sale certainly isn’t the ace of this starting rotation, nor should he be regarded in that light. In order to be an ace, you have to be reliable enough to get the ball every five days, and then you have to deliver strong results when you get the ball. Sale has done neither of those things for quite some time now, but Boston still thinks Sale is an ace.
The front office chose to ignore this, and the result through the first two games of the season have seen Boston give up 18 runs in two games. Sale isn’t the only problem here, but he’s not the pitcher the Red Sox believe him to be, and unless something miraculous happens in the future, chances are Boston’s pitching staff, led by their presumed ace in Sale, is going to give up a lot of runs this season.